Charity Blues: Some Nonprofits Exposed Donors’ and Scholarship Winners’ Social Security Numbers

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If you donated to charity in the last several years and provided your Social Security number, or if you work at a nonprofit or know someone who received a scholarship, listen up!

Turns out that sharing your Social Security number with tax-exempt organizations can lead to identity fraud and identity theft.

That’s because the tax form for charities and nonprofits — the “IRS 990” — is public record.

And a startling new study of tax returns between 2001 and 2006 found that 18% of all nonprofits included at least one Social Security number on the IRS 990 form.

Even though Social Security numbers are not generally required on a Form 990, the study by New York-based Identity Finder found that 132,362 organizations published 472,866 Social Security numbers, of which 171,005 were unique.

The organizations included community foundations, free-food distribution programs, volunteer organizations, scholarship organizations, universities and colleges, and alumni associations. High school and college scholarship recipients, tax preparers, directors, employees, trustees, and donors were the primary populations whose Social Security numbers were exposed.

At least 35% of the total Social Security numbers belonged to tax preparers who identified themselves by their Social Security number instead of Preparer Tax Identification Number.

If you donate in the future, perhaps it’s best to avoid adding your Social Security number with charities. Moreover, scholarship applicants should review the most recent Form 990 of any foundation prior to applying to verify that they do not publish Social Security numbers.

And if a charity forces the issue, don’t be afraid to ask the organization to justify their request for your very sensitive personal information.

 

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Elaine Rigoli

Elaine Rigoli is PRIVATE WiFi's manager of digital content strategy.